It is cold out there, so lake life is about to heat up.
Every year around this time, the first snowmobile makes it across. And once word gets out, a flood of other trekkers follow.
It’s always exciting to see that first adventurer journey the pristine expanse of white. Seeing him or her the second time is good, too.
I’ve heard that occasionally someone gets wet on that first trip, especially on the patch around the bend from us where the ice forms last.
We avoid those kinds of risks, especially since our two-up four-stroke snowmobiles are as heavy as they come—a fact others are quick to point out often
They even get referred to as “couches.”
Regardless, we don’t sled on the lake until we know there will be a consistent six inches of hard ice under us, or more. We understand you don’t want to find yourself over open water while riding a “couch.”
I measured the ice in front of our place on Monday. There was seven inches close to shore, and four inches in the centre of the widest section of lake.
It’s beautifully dark blue stuff, too, with only fluffy snow on top. These conditions are thanks to the fact that it didn’t freeze until after the initial dump of insulating snow.
The cold weather and lack of insulation is helping to make ice quickly now, too. The ice thickened about an inch per night over the weekend.
Safe sledding will commence on our lake soon.
Our lake is one of the last around to completely freeze over. It’s partially spring-fed, and relatively deep, so it takes time.
Even the Rainy River freezes before our lake.
The fact that the river freezes over first seems strange since it has a current. But according to research, there is a clear explanation.
The river produces scattered crystals of ice (called frazil) which stick together as they pinball their way downstream. Then the frazil forms pancakes, which bang together until they smooth out and stick together.
As the pieces fuse together, they freeze to the river’s banks, creating a funnel. The funnel continues to get smaller as the ice continues to get hung up.
Eventually, the build-up of condensed frazil works its way into the middle of the river, at which time the river closes in and freezes over completely.
Ice moves with more freedom on the lake. Initially, we see huge super-thin pancakes form during a calm, cold night, but they disappear when it gets windy or wavy.
Also, there’s a slow vertical circulation of warmer water rising from beneath, which also slows the freezing process.
But when the ice finally does start freezing “for good,” it can thicken quickly until it’s about six inches thick.
The biggest exception on our chain of lakes, however, is the running channels. These don’t build up frazil like the river, so they are dangerous.
People like me avoid them because, quite frankly, I don’t feel like participating in the sport of open water.
In fact, I also avoid where there’s lots of vegetation. Cattail stands and tree roots near the water’s edge can weaken ice and slow its formation.
Last year, I broke through a section like this and heard myself yelling some interesting new words as the sled seemed to bob and gurgle its way to shore.
On either end of the winter season, I also carry ice spikes in my pocket. I purchased mine for $10 at Canadian Tire, but I know someone who made his by putting a nail into one-inch diameter dowels.
We also carry a rope with a block of wood to one end which can be thrown out and floated to a person who is struggling in water. It’s tied to our waterproof floater bag which contains a couple extra pairs of socks and mitts.
I find taking precautions at this time of year enhances lake life. The ice is a wide road to freedom, but it also can be dangerous.
With the active snowmobile season warming up, it’s a good idea to respect the complexity of ice—and to follow a few basic safety rules.
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